Endeavour to be better by design

From art installations to packaging that adds collectability, and store layouts sensitive to users’ needs, brands are using design to set them apart from the competition.


All brands use design to a greater or lesser extent. Some use innovative packaging to improve stand-out on shelf, while others use intelligent design to improve sustainability credentials. Brylcreem, for example, has recently redesigned its packaging to reinforce its brand relevance to young, male consumers. It has introduced a new product, Brylcreem paste, via a limited edition cricket ball pack, to appeal to fans of its latest “Brylcreem Boy” – Kevin Pietersen and the Ashes. Meanwhile, Puma launched its “clever little bag” sustainable packaging earlier this year. Not only a stand-out design but also a form of packaging that makes production faster, saves on materials and protects the product during shipping.

However, some brands have taken it one step further, building design into their core brand strategy. Ken Grier, director of malts at premium spirits company Edrington, believes design is of paramount importance to distinguish the brand from its competitors. He says: “Design gives us differentiation and increases our marketing platforms. This leads to greater cut-through than pure advertising. It’s a really important part of what we do.”

One of Grier’s brands, The Macallan single malt Scotch whisky, achieved a new world record for the price of a bottle of whisky this month, when it teamed up with luxury glassware company Lalique to produce a decanter, created using the cire perdue method. The hand-crafted decanter sold for almost £300,000 at Sotheby’s in New York resulting in global PR coverage.

The partnership with Lalique is one of several the brand has undertaken with designers and photographers (see Q&A, below). Another of Edrington’s brands, Highland Park, has recently teamed up with Scottish jewellery designer Maeve Gillies to produce a limited edition bottle for its 50-year-old whisky.

Other brands are ensuring design is not just at the heart of their business, but making a difference to their customers’ lives. Roger Mavity, chief executive of Conran Holdings, whose services include graphic, interior, product and architecture design, explains that design is not just about making things look good, but about adding value for consumers. He says: “We try to design things in a way that radiates our basic belief that intelligent design improves quality of life. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a well-designed store or building, it’s the fact that the design is intelligent, sensitive and creative. If that gives functionality to the user, then it’s good design, and that’s what we believe in.”

Conran Holdings counts The Conran Shop, the Butler’s Wharf development by Tower Bridge and the Boundary project in Shoreditch, a converted Victorian warehouse which houses three restaurants and bars, 12 hotel rooms and a bakery, among its offerings and its aim has been to make each project functional, yet exciting.

A new spin: Brylcreem launched a one-off cricket ball pot to tie-in with the latest Ashes series

As well as being beneficial to the consumer, Mavity says that good design is essential for the business to thrive. “Our preoccupation with design does give us a very clear, strategic sense of direction. Businesses that are successful usually have a strong sense of what they do and what they’re there for.” 

Strategic design is also helping the Andaz Liverpool Street hotel define what it stands for among its high net worth consumers. The Hyatt-owned brand is hosting a number of design-led initiatives within its hotel (see below) following research that shows five-star clientele are looking for sophistication more than luxury. Andaz is using design in an attempt to merge five-star standards with the atmosphere of a boutique hotel, says the hotel’s general manager Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry.

“What we wanted was to take a more dynamic approach, engaging the guests with innovative experiences or activities taking place in the hotel, using fashion, art and design,” he explains.

De Saint-Exupéry has found that bringing creativity to the guests on a regular basis is a good way to create a personal relationship with them and encourages a two-way dialogue.

Emma Chiu, visual editor at trend spotting think-tank The Future Laboratory says some businesses are using design to add a feeling of authenticity to the brand and reach new markets. Examples include jean brand Levi’s creating screen printing workshops in North America and luxury fashion house Fendi, which last year partnered with Design Miami 2009 and this year with the Fumi Gallery, in order to reach a new, design-led market. Chiu adds: “Levi’s is working in a more sophisticated way, aiming to attach its brand to activities such as screen printing and photography, rather than being solely about the product.”

But marketers need to be careful the design association doesn’t overtake the brand. 

One of Andaz Liverpool Street’s hotel lobby installations

Interior hotel and residential design, branding and marketing agency yoo was started by property entrepreneur John Hitchcox and designer Philippe Starck and counts designers Jade Jagger, Kelly Hoppen and Anouska Hempel as members of its brand. Yoo head of marketing Rachelle Munsie explains that the business has to be careful it doesn’t just become all about the famous faces it is associated with: “When you’re establishing the brand, the hardest thing is giving it its own identity and not letting individual designers take over that brand, so it doesn’t turn into a Philippe Starck brand or a Jade Jagger brand. That’s a huge challenge.”

One of the ways that the brand distinguishes itself from its competitors is in the design of the common areas within its developments, which are built to encourage interaction between residents and give a community feel.

Last year it launched a development in Uruguay that was competing with another development in the area. Munsie claims that yoo sold its development 30% faster and for 25% more, “because we have these added design features and because we really promoted it.”

Using design as part of a brand’s strategy can help to engage with consumers, reach new markets, highlight a company’s unique selling point and publicise the brand. But ultimately those brands that successfully put design at the heart of their brand strategy do so in order to boost the bottom line.

Five ways that the hotel Andaz Liverpool Street has incorporated design into its brand strategy


Arnaud de Saint-Exupéry, general manager at the Andaz Liverpool Street, highlights f ive ways that the hotel has incorporated design into its brand strategy

1 Partnership with the London Design Festival

We didn’t want to just be the place where something takes place, we wanted to do something that would really engage our guests. We came up with several installations, one of which was a bed called Once Upon A Dream. It was a sleeping capsule where you could recuperate from jetlag, designed by Mathieu Lehanneur and commissioned by Verve Clicquot.

The bed was in the hotel lobby for a week and Mathieu was here throughout, engaging with our staff and guests, explaining the installation.

2 Collaboration with gallerist Libby Sellers

We worked with Libby during the London Design Festival to install a pop-up bar called L Bar outside the hotel, which served drinks to guests and commuters. It was also about engaging with the local community, which is very much a part of our brand, while at the same time showcasing an innovation.

3 Collection launch with Cole & Son

We collaborated with wallpaper manufacturer Cole & Son to show its autumn/winter collection, Frontier, in our lobby. We have a panelled wall and Cole & Son tied a piece from the collection onto each panel, creating a patchwork of wallpaper.

4 In-house initiatives

British artisan Helen Beard designed a tea set for our Craft Afternoon Tea during the London Design Festival. We’ve also had silent cinema evenings where we project a film in one of our public spaces called the gallery area, giving guests headsets to wear. Last year we had a reader in residence. You could book him to give you a review of your newspaper in the morning or read you some pages of a book at night in your room.

5 Christmas design

We don’t want to do what every other hotel brand does at Christmas and just have a tree. Instead we’re working with a Danish designer living in East London who’s going to design a wooden cart. We’ll have it in the lounge and in the mornings and afternoons, the pastry chef will fill it with home-made mince pies. Our guests will be able to come in after their work and eat them and drink mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Q&A with Ken Grier, director of malts, Edrington


MW: Why did you decide to associate two of your key brands – The Macallan and Highland Park – with design?

KG: We see design as a key differentiator for us against our competition. Because we’re a relatively small business, our brand needs cut-through, so design gives us a real edge; it’s core to our whole strategy. Design gives us consumer awareness and publicity. It’s also a differentiator in terms of product choice. It can lead to collectability, which helps in terms of repeat purchase.

MW: Can you describe your most recent design collaboration?

KG: Our brand, The Macallan, has partnered with top photographer Albert Watson to create an exclusive limited edition bottle and prints. This week, two unique bottles of The Macallan – a 20-year-old Sherry Oak and The Macallan 1946 – paired with Watson’s portfolio and platinum prints, will be available to purchase around the world. To mark the launch, Watson’s photographic prints will be unveiled in London, kicking off a global exhibition tour.

MW: Do you think the collaboration has changed the way consumers see the brand?

KG: Sixty per cent of the flavour of a single malt scotch whisky comes from the quality of the wooden cask it’s matured in. For The Macallan, we buy 95% of the Spanish oak casks that are used in the Scotch whisky industry and we pay five times more for them. Images of how our whisky is produced enable us to tell the story of what’s really at the heart of the brand and what makes us important in terms of brand promise. 

MW: How have past projects helped the business build up a reputation for design?

KG: A couple of years ago we had a major partnership with photographer Rankin. It involved creating 1,000 individual shots of The Macallan distillery on Polaroid, and each pack contained one of these Polaroids with a matching label. Those sold for about $1,700 (£1,000) each.

We held events all over the world and got lots of publicity, and as a result the brand has come to be regarded as upscale, contemporary and relevant. We’re now finding that many people who bought the first in the series, the Rankin product, are desperate to buy the second one with Watson.

Viewpoint: Mark Hamilton, global marketing director, Absolut


Back in 1978, we decided to develop a bottle that would show the world that Absolut Vodka stood for something different. The result is without a doubt one of the key factors for the brand’s success. The bottle has been the centrepiece in more than 1,000 advertisements and we found inspiration for its iconic look in an antique store in the Old Town of Stockholm, in the shape of a traditional Swedish medicine bottle.

The first advertising campaign for Absolut launched in 1980, Absolut Perfection, instantly placing the spotlight on the brand and its bottle.

Then in 1985, we went even further collaborating with Andy Warhol, who created the bold and striking “Absolut Warhol” – his own vision of the Absolut bottle. And so began our rich legacy of creative collaborations. We’ve now worked with and continued to collaborate with some of the greatest, most creative and visionary luminaries of the past 30 years – including Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, Tom Ford, and more recently, Spike Jonze and Jay-Z.


We continue to showcase the bottle design through our advertising. Our most recent collaboration with director Rupert Sanders produced the Emmy-nominated “Absolut Anthem” TV and cinema spot, and our recent “Drinks” advertising campaign with Ellen Von Unwerth, featuring Kate Beckinsale and Zooey Deschanel, demonstrates how the brand continues to evolve and challenge conventions in 2010 and beyond.

Absolut Vodka represents a belief that doing things differently leads to something exceptional and our bottle shape and design is a visual representation of this, and has been since launch – it is representative of what the vodka stands for and believes in, and encapsulates the quality and brand manifesto in its iconic and timeless design.

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